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January 20, 2011

A Whirlwind, Positive Week

Chris Cavey

This past week a few new rays of hope were cast upon the Republican Party. These glimmers of promise came from both state and national perspectives. Perhaps there will soon be a readjustment in the Grand Old Party and – with luck – it will dribble over onto public attitude, too.


I was fortunate enough to be at these events and witness first hand this political optimism.


On January 12 pomp and circumstance were the order of the day as the Maryland General Assembly kicked off its 2011 session. Annapolis was thick with family, friends and ceremony as the entire body was sworn in for a new four-year term. (Best reception goes to the Frederick County Delegation!)


At first blush the upper chamber, down by two from the prior session for the GOP, would appear to be a lost cause. However, on closer examination the three new Republican senators are each seasoned legislators who were transplanted to the James Senate Building by the voter. Perhaps the Senate Minority Caucus will be mathematically a little short-handed but, in experience and fight, they remain in good shape.


On the House side Del. Tony O’Donnell (R., Southern MD), the minority leader, and his gang made enough gains in the 2010 election that they now have an additional GOP legislator on each of the standing committees in the House of Delegates. This should, at minimum, cause a little more pressure on Speaker Michael Busch (D., Anne Arundel) and Maryland’s single party dominance, particularly making a few sub-committee votes interesting.


We will soon see if the scant winds of change brought about by Maryland’s minute conservative movement will have an effect on the fiscal sanity of this coming session. Likely not, but it is a certainty they will try very hard.


The winds of change also washed across the Republican National Committee’s winter meetings last week, at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Maryland’s favorite son, Michael Steele, lost his re-election bid to Reince Priebus. Chairman Priebus was formerly legal counsel to the RNC and the Wisconsin State GOP chairman.


For perspective the RNC is just an “uber” Republican Central Committee of 168 people. Each state and territory has three members; most have been in the political system for a long time. They have served on local and state committees, raised money and campaigned at all levels.


They act and operate very similar to our local county committees with personality clashes, uncompromising ideas and definite opinions – voiced at will. It is a congenial group that enjoys party politics and has the time and the capital to play in the “big leagues.”


Chairman Priebus ran on a fiscal platform, Steele and Company borrowed $15 million to fully fund the 2010 GOP election efforts nationwide, a fact which caused both joy in winning and grief at having to pay the bill afterward. Mr. Priebus also highlighting his desire to serve as chair to the 168 RNC members and not as a party figurehead/TV spokesperson – a role Michael Steele enjoyed.


Interestingly enough just two short years ago Mr. Steele was the darling of the “168” for those exact opposite qualifications: good with the media, aggressive in talking appearances, promoting minority outreach and being the “TV” face of a national party who was, at the time, having no problem raising money.


It appears that regardless of Mr. Steele’s historic wins and his counter-balancing the idea that all members of the GOP are old white guys… the desire for fiscal accounting ruled the day. The RNC has regrouped and will be soon reloading, so it will be ready for battle in 2012.


As the 168 met on one side of town, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R., MN) was at the National Press Club, casting his net of hope for the future by kicking off his book tour. These book tours are the pre-cursor to presidential exploratory campaigns: the test before the test, so to speak.


The National Press Club is on the 13th floor of its own building, about a par four from the White House. It is a nicely appointed clubhouse. Mostly members were in attendance at the Pawlenty event, with 160 seats set for luncheon in the moderately sized ballroom. The food was good.


It was easy to distinguish the Press Club members from the Pawlenty guests and gawkers. Club members were rolling their eyes and snickering at every mention of fiscal conservatism in Pawlenty’s speech. They were also disappointed that they could not stump or trap the Minnesotan in the 20 minutes of questions and answers.


Most NPC members I met were arrogant, old and aloof – I pictured them as former owners, publishers and editors of failed newsprint operations looking to justify their former careers. It was a little sad; they reeked of cigarette smoke, wore yesterday’s wrinkled clothes and had little table manners – dinosaurs in the age of new media.


Pawlenty, however, was excellent. He spoke on a broad range of topics and was fielding questions with ease, including some very tough questions on that morning’s news. He was impressive, almost presidential…I bought his book…reading now chapter four…and still enjoying it.


This past week for me was a GOP vision for the future; a potential presidential candidate in the making, a national party working to correct its course for additional wins in 2012, and the minority party members of the Maryland General Assembly readying to do 90 days of battle in Annapolis.


Each group visited had a renewed sense of urgency and positive outlook – it actually gave me pause. I learned once that the financial market always corrects itself regardless of any plans from those who would control it. Perhaps we are seeing the same adjustment in the “political market”… I hope so.


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